Rubab Nayeem Khan converses with Sigma Mehdi and Shezan Shams and learns how they’ve managed to offer 360-degree solutions to their customers for their special events efficiently and effortlessly all year round.
What began as a passion project for Sigma Mehdi in 2001 has now evolved into a larger than life entity in the wedding industry of Bangladesh. Today, the country’s most lauded event management brand, Sygmaz branches out its services from decor and card printing to providing a delectable array of wedding dishes beyond the traditional plate of kacchi and roast through S&S Cuisineurs, their exclusive in-house catering services.
Having started off spontaneously, Sygmaz was initially a decor company – “It was something we randomly did, and after doing two or three events we noticed there’s a demand in the market,” recalls Sigma. In the first two years the company had quite a slow start but over time, the scale of the events started getting bigger. “When we started out, the wedding industry didn’t have the support of the internet let alone Facebook, and our cutting-edge was being creative. After that, Facebook came into the picture and people were more exposed to what we had been doing and that played a big role in the expansion of the industry,” she confided.
“I DIDN’T PLAN FOR IT, NOR DID I EXPECT TO BE RUNNING SO MANY COMPANIES AT THE SAME TIME. TO BE HONEST, I BELIEVE ALLAH IS THE REAL PLANNER, AND WHILE I DON’T KNOW WHERE I’LL BE IN FIVE YEARS, BUT WHAT I DO KNOW IS THAT I’LL PUT MY TRUST IN HIM AND GO WITH THE FLOW, WHEREVER HE TAKES ME.”
Taking the first few years to rise to the top, Sygmaz played a very significant role in the expansion of the wedding industry till date. At the same time, people’s exposure to the internet was growing, and upon hitting the curve, Sygmaz also shot up to the top in an ever-evolving industry. “During that time frame, every other year, there was one client or the other who wanted to do more than what everybody else was doing; these people played a key role in our growth,” she says. Her husband Shezan, who is also an integral part of the company says “At a certain point we noticed clients were drawing inspiration from international weddings. So, we decided to work on a side project designing invitation cards, which started off as S&S Inkvitations. After launching that, we were able to incorporate the wedding themes and designs that clients expected from us.”
The duo confided that their seamless executions come with a lot of work and they always do their homework and some more to deliver to their clients the happily ever after they yearn for. “We had never operated printing machines, nor did we have an idea as to who will be producing particular cards in the factory, which person will be specializing in making boxes. Hence, the level of quality that we’ve introduced for cards in this printing industry is yet to be surpassed even today,” emphasises Sigma.
To be a company that prioritises quality and originality over everything else means thinking on your feet and delivering on time. And considering their track record in the market, Sygmaz does so and more, ensuring that clients are able to plan and execute their dream wedding to perfection.
IT OCCURED TO ME THAT IF I CAN’T KEEP THE PRODUCTION UNDER MY CONTROL THEN I WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO CONTROL THE QUALITY. AND THAT’S WHEN S&S CUISINEURS WAS BORN.
However, even for them, the challenges are tenfold. They believe the key to their success is having a structured company. “Having an infrastructure in place allows me be more creative and have more control over quality. The staff working for us are all paid a fixed salary and we don’t hire random workers readily available in the market. Our workers recieve a certain level of training which is why they know particular ways to set flowers, to check whether or not the two ends of a tablecloth are equal before being laid out,” she shares.
Even their card and catering companies follow suit – all the chefs as well as the workers for the factory are full-time employees. Addressing the nature of their operations, Sigma adds, “If we’d not thought about establishing the factory and just conducted sales and outsourced the work then we wouldn’t have been able to maintain quality. From the creativity aspect as well, we have an in-house team consisting of professional designers just for cards.”
But despite having an army of trained staff and uniquely organised operations, Sigma Mehdi still does take it upon herself to be present in all aspects of operations – from training workers to ensuring that clients’demands are being met from the first meet to the final delivery.
“Training these workers requires my presence at all times. To maintain the quality upto my standards, I need to be present from the very first client meeting to the last one. Same thing applies when designers are working with the cards or at the carpenters at the worksites; my presence is very essential and I don’t compromise. I take on the stress and lose a lot of sleep, but somehow I manage to pull it off by the grace of Allah,” she says confidently.
“FROM THE SWEETS TO THE BOXES, ALL PRODUCTION FOR THE DIVINE DEVOUR ARE MADE IN-HOUSE BY OUR OWN WORKERS AND CHEFS WHICH ENABLED ALL THE EMPLOYEES IN THE COMPANY TO KEEP WORKING FULL-TIME.”
With years of experience under their belt, the couple’s latest brainchild came in the form of S&S Cuisineurs, a company that’s reinventing the way food is cooked, presented and served at events.
While discussing the inspiration behind this venture, Sigma explained how she felt that the nature of catering services generally seen at weddings in Bangladesh, have maintained a standard practice for a long time. She noticed that while the level and quality of decor has changed drastically over the years in the wedding industry, food on the other hand remains stuck at offering the same traditional kacchi biryani over and over again.
To expand their horizons in terms of offering exceptional culinary experiences, the couple visited weddings abroad, where they observed that food indeed has a big impact on the experience of an event. “When you enter the venue, you’re greeted with a welcome mocktail; then after a while you can nibble on some appetizers. There’s usually a variety of counters to choose from where you can ask the chef what he’s offering that night. It’s an interactive experience with food which wasn’t offered at any event in Bangladesh,” she explained.
For Sigma and Shezan, the main incentive of offering food was to provide the totality of the wedding experience and to enhance it. “At first we thought of creating this experience with the help of those who are already in the catering business. We tried creating that experience while keeping to our standards, but in the end it didn’t really work. It occured to me that if I can’t keep the production under my control then I would not be able to control the quality. And that’s when S&S Cuisineurs was born,” Sigma elaborated. “The in-house chefs we have hired full-time now are specialized in both the traditional Indian-Bangladeshi and western cuisine, and are very skilled in their trade,”
“THE LEVEL OF QUALITY THAT WE’VE INTRODUCED FOR CARDS IN THIS PRINTING INDUSTRY IS YET TO BE SURPASSED EVEN TODAY”
So naturally, their catering line too excelled and became yet another venture that made waves in the market, enough for them to launch the first pop-up buffet restaurant in the country, Garden Gourmet, and then their product line, Diving Devours.
When asked about the inspiration behind these new ventures, Sigma and Shezan elaborated on how when their business operations took a backseat after the country was hit by the COVID-19 crisis, they were in a conundrum. “If people didn’t host any weddings, we wouldn’t be able to carry out decor services; without big events, there would be no need for invitation cards or catering services either. We didn’t want to terminate our employees, especially since we took the time and effort to train them. We also understood that the pandemic is here to stay. Then realization dawned on us that during COVID-19 no one would want to dine at an indoor restaurant, and given that we already had the expertise and infrastructure for catering and creating ambiant spaces, so why not introduce an outdoor restaurant? In a way, Garden Gourmet is an amalgamation of the two companies,” explained Sigma. She emphasised that the idea was born purely from the pressures of the pandemic and not drawn from global concepts elsewhere. “Also, the food and services provided by S&S Cuisineurs has only been experienced by our niche clientele and their guest list; Garden Gourmet has helped inform those beyond this list as well. This initiative has hepled demonstrate the style and types of cuisines we can offer in an event or in an outdoor setting on a much bigger scale,” Shezan added.
Shezan concurs that this survival plan turned out to be so successful that it has now given them the confidence to launch the second season of Garden Gourmet with a new design, menu and venue.
Amidst the growing popularity of their catering line, the nation was hit with the second wave of COVID-19, just when things were starting to look up. So the duo had to seek yet another mode of survival. They noticed that the section for sweets in Garden Gourmet had gained popularity among the guests and quickly became a much sought after segment of their catering services. “Our sweets are made exclusively with mawa or ghee,” Shezan revealed, “and the laddoo and halwa recipes we have are not common or similar to other shops in town. Therefore, we decided to launch a retail product line called Divine Devour, to cater to the growing demand for gourmet desserts.
As always, the couple carefully did their research and their due diligence paid off. “From the sweets to the boxes, all production for Divine Devour are made in-house by our own workers and chefs which enabled all the employees in the company to keep working full-time,” Sigma added.
For a company like Garden Gourmet to operate in December for 90 days, alongside Sygmaz and S&S Cuisineurs, during the busiest season for weddings sounds like a daunting task. But Sigma and Shezan walked us through their operations, reassuring that each venture is run like a tight ship where there’s no room for mismanagement.
In this regard, Shezan, who is in charge of running Garden Gourmet, informs that they share their responsibilities and with proper planning and delegation of duties, they have it all under control. “We have a kitchen setup comprising of almost 5000 square feet, complete with dedicated staff for Garden Gourmet. So it’s all about aligning your workload, seamless management and delivering the work on time,” he says.
“Even though essentially we’re one company, we have separate operations teams for management and manpower. The infrastructure of each brand is independent which makes the work easy for us,” Sigma continued.
As the dynamic duo carries on providing top tier services in not just decor and card printing, but also in catering, we wonder as to what more they have in the pipelines. Reflecting on their journey thus far, Sigma shared that it was collaborating with Shezan in 2014 that eventually paved the way for her to have come so far. She believes that the partnership is what made them grow to the next level. Shezan feels that their success can also be attributed to a few special clients and their out-of-the-box requirements which has served as a stepping stone for them to be creative and move forward beyond the ordinary. “Their support has helped us come this far. We want our consistency to follow and keep advancing in an upward trend,” he expresses.
When Sigma started working in 2001, she had no idea that she’d be here today. “I didn’t plan for it, nor did I expect to be running so many companies at the same time. To be honest, I believe Allah is the real planner, and while I don’t know where I’ll be in five years, but what I do know is that I’ll put my trust in Him and go with the flow, wherever He takes me.”